If you didn’t already know it, Amazon really wants to deliver stuff to your door using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos unveiled a prototype of the Prime Air delivery drone in 2013, and several redesigns later, the company is surely coming close to a platform that it hopes will transform its delivery operation. Of course, it first has to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that such an aerial-based delivery system is safe, so a full-fledged, autonomous delivery service could still be a ways off.
But that hasn’t stopped Amazon investing huge amounts of money in developing and testing a system that it believes will one day drive its drone-based delivery operation.
Part of that work includes filing numerous patents that may or may not one day become part of the final platform, though each one offers insight into some of the team’s thought processes as it tackles various challenges.
The latest patent, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office this week and spotted by GeekWire, explores the various methods by which Amazon’s drone could signal its arrival at a delivery address, and how it might interact with the customer as they step outside their home.
For some people, parts of the patent are likely to conjure up images from Close Encounters of the Third Kind when the alien spaceship lands on Earth, lights blazing as it plays a catchy ditty together with colorful flashing lights. Though Amazon’s drone won’t be quite as big.
Alarm and confusion?
Noting how a customer “may be alarmed or confused” when a noisy drone approaches their property, Amazon’s filing goes on to list a number of ways that its flying machine could signal its intentions or interact with them.
It describes the kind of procedures you might expect, such as sending texts to the customer to update them on the drone’s whereabouts, with its real-time location shown on a map.
But it also talks about how lights and speakers could activate as the drone approaches the customer’s property. It might announce its arrival “by emitting a warning sound, a pleasant tune, or other audio,” the patent says.
The drone may even incorporate a projector capable of displaying a landing or drop zone, or even a message that it projects onto a wall or the ground. That message might tell the customer to clear away an object — anything from a piece of furniture to the pet dog — for a safe delivery, or the projector could beam light directly onto the obstacle, signaling to the customer to take action.
Of course, for the full Close Encounters effect, which would have a good chance of scaring the bejeezus out of unwitting neighbors with little knowledge of Amazon’s drone operations, the deliveries and subsequent light show would have to take place at night, though the company’s patent says the projectors could still function effectively in the evening or in shaded areas.
Other Amazon patents for its planned airborne delivery service include ideas for using the tops of street lights, cell towers, and church steeples as drone recharging stations to enable long-distance deliveries; beehive-like drone towers located in or close to urban areas for deliveries to city addresses; and even giant floating warehouses that the drones buzz to and from during delivery runs. No, we can’t imagine that last one happening anytime soon, either.